Each year since 2009, religion teacher Patrick Nugent has handed out Catholic Extension’s Christmas Wish List to his students at West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan and asked each class to choose one wish to support throughout Advent.
Although much of the fundraising is done through small collections of change during class, the students’ generosity has quickly added up. Over the last seven years, he and his students have raised more than $3,600 for various Christmas causes in Catholic Extension’s mission dioceses.
“I appreciate the work that Catholic Extension does, and I wanted to share that with the kids,” said Nugent. “The Wish List is a way for the kids to find something that appeals to them. There’s a wish for everybody.”
Catholic Extension’s Wish List has been connecting donors with specific Christmas causes since 1987. Earlier versions of the list date back to the 1920s when Extension magazine published donation requests for church goods such as priest vestments, candlesticks, and statues to donate to churches in mission dioceses across the country.
This year the list includes 26 specific funding requests from mission dioceses across the country. Donors can help support the cost of a seminarian’s education for a day, fill the gas tank for a priest who travels to remote parishes, and fulfill other needs from lay leaders, volunteer organizations, parishes and women religious.
At the beginning of the Advent season, Nugent’s students vote to choose a class wish from the list. But this year, when his third-period class voted, there was no clear winner.
Fortunately for sophomore Audrey Patterson, she had a favorite wish from the moment she turned to the last page of the brochure
“Audrey stepped up and,” he snapped his fingers, “it was done.”
Patterson delivered a passionate argument for Wish #26 to help give Christmas presents and financial support to Santa Teresita of the Child Jesus Children’s Home, a church-run shelter for abused and neglected children in the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The home is run by Melva Arbelo, who also was Catholic Extension’s 2016 recipient of the Lumen Christi Award.
“Every child looks back and remembers Christmas as a wonderful time with a feeling of hope and renewal and joy,” said Patterson, “and these little kids have been through so much. They should get to have a Christmas like everyone else.”
Her classmate Nick Kimball originally voted for another wish on the list, but like the rest of his classmates, he was moved by Audrey’s enthusiasm. He soon helped to start a group text message conversation to encourage and remind the class to bring in cash for the cause.
That first night texts flew between classmates as the students volunteered to bring in everything from brownies to juice boxes to sell for the children in Puerto Rico.
One of Patrick Nugent’s three sophomore classes pose for a group photo. The class raised money for Santa Teresita of the Child Jesus Children’s Home in Puerto Rico throughout the Advent season.
“We are super fortunate for having the things that we get for Christmas, so it’s kind of nice to give back to other people because they don’t all get to experience what we experience,” Kimball said.
By the third week of Advent, an enthusiastic tenth grader walked the aisles of the packed classroom collecting change in a small envelope and encouraging his classmates to clap for each student who contributed. For the first few minutes of class, there was nearly constant applause.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Nugent’s classes sold hot chocolate and homemade baked goods to other classrooms to contribute to the collection. Some larger bills were put in the envelope from parents and teachers, but most of the donations came from students saving their own change from everyday small purchases in places like the lunch line.
Nugent even offered one “match day” where he personally matched the amount the classes contributed for the day.
“I chose a cause that I support myself,” he said. “If the teacher is passionate about the mission of Catholic Extension, then that helps.”
After every coin was counted, the total amount written on the whiteboard by Dec. 21 was just over $980.
“The kids are very generous,” he said, “ A couple of the classes have really embraced the cause.”
Nugent, who has been teaching religion since 1994, hopes that his students will be inspired by this experience and feel encouraged to give back to Catholic Extension in the future. He has been supporting the organization for years and hopes that one day his students will do the same.
But on a snowy Friday in West Michigan, Nugent enjoyed just watching his class as they laughed, joked, and worked together with compassion to raise money for children in need thousands of miles away.
He’s given them a pretty great place to start.